Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They Know Not What They Do

Biblegems #47
What did Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross accomplish for those who crucified Him; and were those who crucified Him truly ignorant of what they were doing?

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

In earlier Biblegems (#37 and #40) we explored the effect forgiveness has when offered by a believer in the authority of Jesus’ name. In that case, if you were to sin against me and I forgave you, your sin against me would be cancelled out (Matt. 18:18-20). If your sin against me was an offense against others as well, you would still be accountable to God for that. I cannot forgive your sin against others.

Here, Jesus Himself is asking the Father to forgive those who are sinning against Him. Who are the guilty parties? Jesus is referring specifically to the soldiers who are following orders given by Pontius Pilate. It is the soldiers in verse 26 who led Jesus away from Pilate. It was the soldiers in verse 32 who led Jesus and the other criminals from Jerusalem to the hill called Golgotha. It was the soldiers who carried out the crucifixion itself in verse 33, and the same soldiers Jesus interceded for in verse 34.

Jesus sought their forgiveness because they were ignorant of the magnitude of their actions. They certainly knew the crime Jesus was accused of: claiming the role of king. But, unlike the Jewish leaders who trumped up the charges against Jesus, these Romans had no understanding of the revelation in the Bible of the coming messiah, the savior of the world. These unfortunate soldiers were executioners, likely performing their grisly task hundreds of times. This would seem no different. In fact, even though Luke’s Gospel alone records this saying of Jesus from the cross, both Matthew and Mark relate how the commander of those soldiers responded after Jesus died amidst an earthquake, and thunder and lightning under a leaden sky: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39; cf. Matt. 27:54).

So what did Jesus’ act of forgiveness actually accomplish for these soldiers?

Jesus’ own teaching tells it all. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).

Whatever else these soldiers might have to account for on Judgment Day, crucifying the Son of God would not show up on the list. For—
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:12).

This beautiful act of grace also demonstrates the power of the cross and the shed blood of Jesus to cancel out sin. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Bride Of Christ & The New Jerusalem

Biblegems #46
Are the Bride of Christ and the New Jerusalem the same?

The question arises from the following two passages in Revelation:
Rev. 3:12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

Rev. 21:2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

The word “city” often elicits images of crowded streets and clustered buildings, as when we hear the word “church” and picture buildings with sanctuaries and steeples. But in both cases, the principle idea behind the terms is the people within, rather than the structures that accommodate the people. After all, what would a city or a church be without people?

That being said, the Greek word used here for “city” is “polis,” which pictures a clearly defined town or city with walls. The New Jerusalem is presented in both the Old and New Testaments as city in terms of a physical location and as the people who populate it.

The New Jerusalem is not the same as the Jerusalem from which Jesus will reign on the earth during the Millennium. The Millennial Jerusalem will be built from earth’s resources brought in by the nations surviving Armageddon and the Lord’s return:
Is. 45:14 This is what the LORD says: “The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and those tall Sabeans—they will come over to you and will be yours; they will trudge behind you, coming over to you in chains. They will bow down before you and plead with you, saying, ‘Surely God is with you, and there is no other; there is no other god.’”
Is. 54:11 O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires.

The New Jerusalem, however, is described as coming down from God through the new heavens to the new earth (21:1), all of which follows the Millennial Reign of Christ, the defeat of Satan and the Great White Throne Judgment.

This is the city Abraham anticipated:
For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).
This city is a “polis,” a physical location perfectly suited for the resurrected people of God:
…Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Heb. 11:16).

But the New Jerusalem is also the people who inhabit the city, the Bride of Christ:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven (Heb. 12:22-23).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Marriage Supper Of The Lamb

Biblegems #45
Who make up the attendees invited to the marriage Supper of the Lamb, since the Bride of Christ is already present and the supper is for the Bride and the Groom? Are OT saints included? Are Gentiles who are won to Christ by the 144,000 included?

The Wedding Supper (“marriage supper,” KJV) is referred to in Revelation 19:9, which reads—
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.

The angel is responding to a thundering shout of praise from an uncountable throng of voices in heaven. Heaven’s inhabitants are glorifying God for His victory over evil (Rev. 19:1-4), for establishing His Kingdom on earth (Rev. 19:6), and for the impending Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7, 9). Earlier in revelation, this multitude is identified:
Rev. 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

This multitude praising God in heaven is made up of all the redeemed throughout all the ages, including the 144,000 Jewish believers in Jesus from the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:4-8, 13-17). This is the Bride of Christ. These are the ones shouting at the tops of their resurrected lungs, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”

The “wedding” and wedding supper” (Rev. 19:7, 9) refer to the same event. This is not the marriage ceremony (i.e. “union”) of the Bride and the Bridegroom, but the celebration feast that traditionally followed a Jewish-style ceremony, and after the groom brought His bride home. Jesus accurately describes such a wedding banquet in a parable (Matt. 22:2-14). In fact, the “Wedding Supper of the Lamb” is what Jesus referred to when he said to His disciples at the last Supper:
“I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29).

Clearly, Jesus has His followers, the Bride of Christ, in view as those invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Collectively, we who are in Christ are called the Bride of Christ. Individually, we are the guests at the Great Banquet. This is no contradiction, but a joyful mixing of metaphors to describe the many facets of our relationship to Jesus.

And, yes, this great company of the redeemed also includes the Old Testament saints. Jesus’ death on the cross was effective for them as well. As Jesus reminded the people of His day in speaking of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matt. 22:32)!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jesus' Real Birthdate

Biblegems #44

Question: Does the Bible say what year Jesus was born? Also, who decided that we were going to recognize Jesus' Birthday on the 25th of December, and in what year did they decide this was going to take place? Just wondering. Merianne.

Jesus was likely born somewhere between 4 B.C and 6 B.C. The discrepancy is based upon an error made by a Christian in the 6th century named Dionysius Exiguus, who intended to create a calendar based on the birth of Jesus. However, he miscalculated the year of Herod’s death, which was not recognized until many centuries later.

It is commonly held that December 25th on our current calendar was not the actual birth date of Jesus. Here is what we do know for sure:

We know Jesus was conceived in the six month of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Lk. 1:24-27); and we know (based on when her husband Zacharias served in the temple) that Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist around the last week of the Hebrew month of Sivan (Lk. 1: 5, 8, 23-24). This would place the conception of Jesus in the month of Kislev (November – December). Nine months later would be the month of Tishri (September – October, according to our current calendar).

This means that the likely month of Jesus’ conception is the month when Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by the Jews. Interestingly, Jesus is described in the NT as “the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46). And the month of Jesus’ birth marks the last feast of the year on the Jewish calendar, the Feast of Tabernacles. As it says in John, 1:14, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (lit., “tabernacled”) among us.

The first century church, apparently, did not celebrate Jesus’ birth. This started to become more popular in the 2nd – 3rd century. Because the exact date of His birth was unknown, the church tended to mark His birth at the time of the Winter Solstice, taking advantage of the symbolism involved in the increased light of the lengthening days to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the “light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). While some have often tried to condemn the tradition as yielding to pagan practices of sun worship, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, Christianity took pagan practices and replaced them with a celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world!